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Housing Perspectives

Research, trends, and perspective from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies

Terwilliger: “Feds Should Focus Less on Subsidizing Homeowners; More on Helping Low-Income Renters and Low-Wealth Owners”

There are few people with more experience in housing than J. Ronald Terwilliger, chairman emeritus of Trammell Crow Residential and this year’s presenter of the John T. Dunlop Lecture.

A graduate of the Harvard Business School, Mr. Terwilliger returned to Cambridge last week to present his vision of a more balanced federal housing policy.

Before a standing-room-only audience at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Mr. Terwilliger urged Washington policymakers to abandon “prevailing orthodoxies” and re-direct the $200 billion the federal government spends annually on housing to support those families with the greatest needs.  As Mr. Terwilliger explained, we are at an inflection point in our nation’s history that requires federal housing policy to “focus less on subsidizing higher-income homeowners and more on helping lower-income renters as well as low-wealth homeowners.”  He specifically cited the mortgage interest deduction as in need of reform because it disproportionately benefits the wealthiest Americans.

Mr. Terwilliger’s remarks were entitled Housing America’s Increasingly Diverse Population.  Central to his call for a more balanced housing policy is the fact that America’s demographics are dramatically changing:  Our nation is becoming older and more racially and ethnically diverse.  At the same time, many of our nation’s young adults, the 62 million echo boomers, are beginning to form households for the first time. As Mr. Terwilliger argued, these trends will challenge housing policymakers to develop new, more effective strategies, including ways to increase the supply of affordable rental housing to meet the rising demand in the marketplace.

It was wonderful to hear Mr. Terwilliger’s evocation of John Dunlop, a man who served presidents of both political parties and spent a lifetime bridging differences.  At a time when our nation’s politics seem so broken, we can no doubt use more men and women like Professor Dunlop in Washington.

We thank the National Housing Endowment for supporting the Dunlop Lecture.  Click the video below to watch Ron Terwilliger’s speech. We welcome your comments and responses.